I Timothy 3. Elders and Deacons, Servant-leaders.
Key Notes: Definition and criteria for elders. Priests. Church servants and their tasks. Hard jobs for dedicated people.
Chapter 3 relieves the tension. It gives us a First Century description of two major Church responsibilities. They are very different from job descriptions today and we will think about the differences.
3:1 The saying is sure. If one aspires to be a bishop, it is a noble task.
The word bishop is "episkopos" in Greek, better translated "overseer" in English. It is used interchangeably with "presbyteros" in Greek, translated "elder" ."Elder" suggests age and dignity; "overseer" indicates the nature of the work. Several examples of the equivalence of elder and overseer are listed:
elder, IPet.5:1; overseer, IPet.5:5.
elder, Tit.1:5; overseer, Tit.1:7.
elders, Acts 20:17; overseers, Acts 20:28.
In one place the elders are admonished to pastor the flock. (IPet.5:1,2). This raises the question of the relationship of overseers to the specific church offices listed in ICor.12:28 such as apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle-workers,healers, helpers, administrators, and speakers in tongues. We would expect apostles, prophets and teachers, as well as administrators to be overseers. But administration is a calling different from preaching and teaching. Supervision is also quite general work and deserves to be considered separately.
The role of the elder/bishop/overseer became increasingly complex. By 110AD Ignatius of Syrian Antioch described the "monarchial episcopate"--a bishop over a college of presbyters (elders). In effect, the bishop became a rank above the elders.
In the fourth century (300AD) Cyprian taught that the priests of the OT were the counterpart of the pastors of the NT. The word priest in English is a condensation of the word presbyter, but in English it came to mean the same as the OT priest. In Greek, the word for priest is different--"hiereis". The priest of the OT had an altar, and a sacrifice; so too the NT priest had to have a sacrifice--the sacrifice of the Mass, the daily offering of the body of Christ upon the altar. This of course separated the priest / bishop from the people. Hebrews plainly dismisses that kind of priesthood but it was ignored. By the Middle Ages, there were two classes of people: the laity who had access to God and to the Scriptures only through the priest and the religious (nuns, monks, priests, bishops, etc.). The laity became second-class citizens.
The Reformation brought a drastic change. Luther preached the "priesthood of all believers" (IPet.2:9-) and Wycliffe, Huss and others began giving the Scriptures to the common people in their languages. Some churches today have gone back to what is perceived as the practice of NT times. They have no ordination and no special office for pastor, but "lay" elders serve in preachers and church leaders. Plymouth Brethren are an example. However, to this day, most churches hold those who have received ordination with special honor and in some churches communion cannot be served without a pastor present.
3:2–7 The qualities of an bishop/overseer/elder can be grouped:
above reproach, temperate, sensible: "of sound mind"; dignified or orderly,
not violent: "not a striker"; gentle, not quarrelsome.
not a money-lover,
not a drunkard, "next to the cup"
•family: if he fails here, he will fail in the church (3:5)
husband of one wife ,"a one-woman man"
managing his household well
keeping his children submissive and respectful
hospitable: Gr. "loving the stranger"
apt to teach--and with something to say
•experience: we do not want to give Satan opportunities to condemn or trap us. 3:6,7
not a recent convert: a "neophyte" = newly planted, lest he be puffed up ("wrapped in smoke").
well thought of in town, with witnesses to his personal goodness among those who might otherwise disagree.
3:8–13 Deacons, men and women. Deacon means servant and the word is transliterated from Greek"diakonos". It is not a lofty title. They began as table-waiters (Acts 6:1–6) to assure that Greek and Jewish widows were given equal food shares, but two, Stephen and Philip were soon off to larger work, preaching and evangelism.
The requirements for deacon are not as stringent as those for the elder:
not addicted to wine
not greedy for money
husband of one wife
managing his children and the household well
tested and proved blameless
holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience
3:11. The women may be the wives of deacons, or deacons in their own right. "Deaconess" is more recent word, not used in NT.
faithful in all things.
There are several words in Greek for servant. Rome had a slave economy, and where there is a lively interest, many names are found.
"doulos": a slave, in subjection
"therapov": a special servant, especially devoted to God; also a healer
"latreos": a worker for hire; later ,a servant to God
"hyperetes": an adjutant, staff worker
"diakonos": a servant with love as motive
Jesus is called "guardian " or "bishop" (IPet.2:25) but He also spoke of Himself as deacon: "I am among you as one who serves." (Lk.22:27)
There is no real job description for First Century deacons and elders except perhaps to teach. Paul's emphasis is on finding--or being--the qualified person. In the early Church there were too few to be specialized. A house-group needed someone to call a group together and find a teacher; it needed someone to prepare the meal and make everyone comfortable. We may make the mistake of thinking that secular education in business, law or medicine automatically qualify a person for church leadership, ignoring weak spiritual qualifications.
The skills necessary to make the modern church effective require leaders to be specialists. The pastor should devote himself to preaching, teaching, evangelism and helping people through the rites of passage--birth, baptism, marriage, illness and death. To spare him, we need experts in finance and stewardship, evangelists, shepherds of small groups, ministers to children, adolescents, adults, the aged, and widows. Special needs for babies, children and adults with handicaps including deafness must be considered. Missionaries need personal attention whether on the Field or at home.
In our church of a thousand, there were perhaps 200 people who could be called deacons. They had church callings as teachers, musicians, preparers of food, secretaries and artists, cleaners and repairmen. They counsel, care for the sick, pray, or represent us in the community. From this large group about 30 are selected to be called deacons or deaconesses, doing special duty for the church as a whole. From the deacons, four are chosen to be elders, to oversee the church operation and advise the pastor. In other words, the path to leadership is to join the church, find a task or calling, and work in it. Some will be designated deacons and deaconesses by the church. The title is not important. Some deacons go on to become elders. Elders deserve training in order to be discerning in theological matters, wise in counseling, and diligent in prayer.
It is a noble task to be an elder (3:1). However, as one senior Christian said, "The ability to be the elder is the ability to tolerate pain." The dark side of the ministry is the weakness and suffering of people, especially those who are in the senior leadership, people who are looked up to and venerated. The inside of any spiritual organization exposes the sins of human beings and their needs. "He who increases knowledge increases sorrow." (Eccl.1:8). This is not a task one normally aspires to.
Paul says deacons acquire a good standing for themselves and great confidence in the Faith. One can see spiritual growth in people selected to be deacons and deaconesses. One deacon who was pressed to become treasurer, became passionately interested in stewardship and finance, and started a stewardship training program. We encourage every adult to find a niche, a task, a calling to build up the Body of Christ.
Be a servant. God will bless you and the Church will be strengthened.